We are ranking the top 20 prospects in the Chicago Cubs farm system as the 2019 season opens up. A state of the farm system, an introduction, and prospect number 21 are here, prospects 20 through 16 are here, prospects 15 through 11 are here, prospects 10 through 6 are here, and a big group of guys who just missed is here.
Here it is! The top prospects in the Cubs system! Let’s get right to it!
5. Alex Lange, RHP
Age: 23-156. H/W: 6-3, 197. Acquired: 1st round (2017). 2018 numbers: 120.1 IP, 104 H, 3.74 ERA, 38 BB, 101 K, 6 HR-A. Projected 2019 Assignment: Double-A Tennessee. ETA: 2020.
Has: The necessary secondaries. The best news from Lange’s 2018 season was the development of his changeup out of Spring Training and the previous offseason. Lange came out of the gate throwing it with confidence, and there were starts where it was his best pitch. The curveball was more inconsistent than we’d hoped, but certainly showed flashes of the pitch that got him drafted. If anything, I’d like to see Lange’s pitch mix altered, leaning more and more on the curve as both an early and late-count pitch.
Shows: Grade-A control. Here’s a statistic that speaks for itself. Lange’s first 14 starts: 1.7 BB/9, 3.39 ERA. Just one of those starts with 3+ walks. Last 9 starts: 4.7 BB/9, 4.30 ERA, with five starts of 3+ walks. It seems to me that Lange mostly ran out of gas in year 1, but what I saw early-season is a guy that controls his corners, elevates his fastball to the right height, and is comfortable going to secondaries even with full counts.
Needs: Every extra tick on the fastball will increase Lange’s margin for error. The good news is that, while he’s not young, I have reason to believe there’s velocity left to add. Lange’s body has a little weight room projectability left, and his make-up is such that you believe he’ll push himself to the edge. He’s touched 95 in the past; I believe he’ll see it again.
4. Adbert Alzolay, RHP
Age: 24-006. H/W: 6-0, 179. Acquired: IFA Signing, 2012 ($10K). 2018 numbers: 39.2 IP, 43 H, 4.76 ERA, 13 BB, 27 K, 4 HR-A. Projected 2019 Assignment: Triple-A Iowa. ETA: 2019.
Has: The best 3-pitch mix by a Cubs pitching prospect in a long time. Alzolay sits 95 and can reach 99 with a good-life fastball he controls, he made huge strides throwing his changeup in a variety of accounts to hitters on both sides of the plate, and a curveball that, when he buries, is just nasty. Here’s an example from Michael Ernst at Cubs Den where you see the whole arsenal, including the K-pitch plus curve:
You want a taste of the nasty that #Cubs prospect Adbert Alzolay (@adbert29) was serving up to Omaha tonight? Check out his 7th inning work against the 3-4-5 batters. I don't even need to edit these ABs he made such quick work of them.
4 Pitches: pic.twitter.com/XJJ4J7Dunr
— Michael Ernst (@mj_ernst) May 1, 2018
The other nice thing about Alzolay: he is among the fastest workers I’ve ever seen on a mound.
Shows: I have watched every pitch that Alzolay threw last year twice by now, and I still can’t really figure out how he ended up with a 15.8 K%. This is a guy who was throwing no-hitters at the start of the 5th inning in 3 of his 8 starts! I think he maybe got a little too formulaic, focusing too much on getting ahead, pitching within the zone, etc. With stuff this good, it’s necessary he hunt for whiffs a little more often.
Needs: Health and endurance. I won’t repeat myself from this piece, but even if we give Alzolay the credit that his injuries are more of the freak variety than a prone-ness, at some point soon he just needs the development time. And for a guy who has done all the weight room work necessary to build his fastball velocity, his consistent drop-off as starts went along last year isn’t the most encouraging sign for a future rotation spot.
3. Brailyn Marquez, LHP
Age: 20-036. H/W: 6-4, 185 (ha). Acquired: IFA Signing, 2015 ($600K). 2018 numbers: 54.2 IP, 53 H, 3.13 ERA, 16 BB, 59 K, 5 HR-A. Projected 2019 Assignment: Low-A South Bend. ETA: 2022.
Has: When Marquez was in Mesa last spring for Extended Spring Training, the reports from multiple places was a guy throwing in the low 90s. Then, he showed up at Eugene. In his first start, he was 96. In the next, 97. At multiple points in the summer, he’d touch 98. Marquez has continued to fill out since his signing, and now has a thick lower half that he’s used to add to his fastball. It’s a big, heavy pitch that he controls effectively. It’s really not hard to build a game plan when you have a pitch this good.
Shows: The secondaries are better than you’ve otherwise read. I prefer his changeup, which is best when thrown to the outside corner against a right-handed hitter, where you’ll see some late sink that plays off his fastball really nicely. His breaking ball is typically called a curveball, but with his height and arm slot, it acts more like a slider, diving and cutting without particularly sharp break. I’m a fan.
Ho hum, just a casual reminder that Brailyn Marquez is:
✔️ Added ~6 mph to FB last yr
✔️ Topped at 98
✔️ Had a 2.6 BB/9
✔️ Is committed to using 3 pitches
✔️ Secondaries flash plus
Coming soon to a South Bend ballpark near you. pic.twitter.com/doZaEMqIgX
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) January 25, 2019
Needs: To push his timetable a bit. It’s high time for Marquez to dominate, and leave the Cubs no choice but to begin to push him. Simply put, Midwest League hitters should not be able to hit Marquez. I’d like to see his development schedule expedited with a mid-season promotion to Myrtle Beach.
2. Nico Hoerner, SS
Age: 21-298. H/W: 6-1, 200. Acquired: 1st round (2018). 2018 numbers (reg season plus AFL): .333/.396/.529, 7-for-9 SB, 7.1 BB%, 13.0 K%. Projected 2019 Assignment: High-A Myrtle Beach or Double-A Tennessee. ETA: Sep, 2020.
Has: The plate approach of a Major League veteran. Hoerner’s collegiate experience shows, as he has an advanced plan every time he’s in the box. Hoerner is a very good contact hitter; he has excellent bat speed and is short to the ball. His walk rate is something we’ll get a better idea of this year, but he does have a good feel for the strike zone and could have plus patience if he prioritizes that. Hoerner is a good-not-great runner, and a good-not-great defender that could be better than that if moved to second base. The Cubs also speak so highly of Hoerner as a person and a leader; he aced the mental skills tests that famously led the McLeod/Epstein pairing to Mookie Betts and Kyle Schwarber in the past.
Shows: Since the day he was drafted, the Cubs have told us there’s power in that bat. Scouts see potential as the Cubs unwind the “Stanford Swing” and work on things like launch angle, contact point, and a bigger finish. The early returns look good:
I have slowed down the second swing in each clip. Anyone see differences as Cubs attempt to inject power? pic.twitter.com/UrBfjvZZKj
— Cubs Prospects – Bryan Smith (@cubprospects) January 22, 2019
However, the reason that Hoerner finds himself second on this list: I simply believe in Miguel Amaya’s power more. I think the changes to be made with Hoerner are more likely to result in a 10-15 HR guy rather than a 20+ star.
Needs: To not lose his core competency in trying to make bigger changes. Hoerner doesn’t have to fulfill the promise of the Cubs internal power projections to be a good and extremely useful player. If he becomes an all-fields contact hitter that eventually tops the lineup, that will still be exceptional value for his draft slot. Between injuries and development, there’s been a lot in flux for Hoerner the past 8 months. Balancing that while keeping the identity of what made you a first-round pick is a slope where others have slipped before.
1. Miguel Amaya, C
Age: 19-363. H/W: 6-1, 185. Acquired: IFA Signing, 2015 ($1.25M). 2018 numbers: .256/.349/.403 (114 wRC+), 10.4 BB%, 19.0 K%. Projected 2019 Assignment: High-A Myrtle Beach. ETA: 2022.
Has: The ability to be an above-average Major League catcher. I think people out there are quick to nitpick Amaya’s defense: his framing needs some work, his feet aren’t lightning quick. But, in my viewings, Amaya is a no-doubt catcher, primarily on attitude. This is a guy at 19 years old that his pitchers loved, a magnetic personality that controls the field. He also has a cannon. Since coming to the U.S., Amaya has gunned down 75 of the 205 guys who have tried to steal on him (37%), an advanced number for his age.
Shows: Such strides offensively last year. Even with the rough second half (it was his first year in full-season ball), this was still the fourth-best season by a teenage catcher in the Midwest League in the 2010’s. A walk rate over 10 and a K-rate under 20 at his age, when the average Midwest League pitcher last year was 21.9 years old, portends great things in the future. And I also believe in his power. Amaya is a natural pull hitter that gained a lot of good weight last year, and it made an instant difference (courtesy Prospects Live):
Needs: The elephant in the room, just like with the other prominent catcher in this organization, is the endurance. In 2017, Amaya was the star of Extended Spring Training, went to Eugene and stunk. Last year, Amaya was a first half star, went to the Futures Game, and then stunk (OPS was 826 pre-FG, 574 after). For now, I’m confident that this is just a matter of gaining his sea legs, but at a certain point, we need to see consistency over a 100+ game stretch.
[Thanks to all for reading the list. I’ll have a piece recapping the list and adding some Honorable Mentions soon. Also might grab some of your questions for a mailbag, so feel free to leave those below!]